26 May, 2010

Cabbage Soup and Sourdough Parmesan Croutettes

Cabbage soup gets a bad rep.  Most people I talk to about cabbage soup only seem to think of nightmare scenarios where the only organism to survive on the tundra is a cabbage.  "Isn't that what my great-grandma made during the Great Depression?"  Well, yeah, because it's cheap.  but that doesn't change the fact that it's also delicious.

My husband is a picky eater.  He's very much a meat and potatoes kind of guy, who's been patiently learning and only occasionally complaining during our courtship and marriage.  And he LOVES this soup.

    Flat Dutch Lake Cabbage 300 Seeds-GARDEN FRESH PACK
  • 1 small green cabbage, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • 1 large pantry onion, also coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs minced garlic (3 if preserved)
  • LOTS of fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs Spike
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4-8 c water, divided
Melt the butter in a soup pot over med high.
Add the onions and cook until just translucent.  Then add the garlic, spike, salt, and ground black pepper and cook another two minutes.
Add the cabbage, and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
Add water until the vegetables are just covered.  Simmer for ten minutes.
Add another cup of water, and continue to simmer for another ten minutes.
Continue adding water every ten minutes or so until your pot is essentially full.

Salt to taste. 

Sourdough Parmesan Croutettes:
  • 1 loaf of day old sourdough bread
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1 c grated parmesan cheese
Preheat your broiler to high.
Halve your sourdough, and then slice it into pieces roughly 2.5 inches wide.
Butter one side of each piece generously, then sprinkle sourdough on top.
Place the croutettes on an ungreased baking sheet, and put them under the broiler for 3 or for minutes, until the top is very brown.

Serve hot with cabbage soup!

25 May, 2010


A word on nuts-
They last for ages if kept in an airtight container, they're good for snacking and they're excellent additions to your meals, and they're even good for you.

If you have the space and you cook often, I recommend making nuts a staple in your pantry.

The most important four in my home are almonds, pecans, walnuts and peanuts.  But if you have other favorite nuts, it's nice to have them on hand.  Feeling a bit hungry before you start cooking?  A handful of delicious nuts is a good way to curb your hunger while you make dinner proper, without pigging out on chips or candy.

An old pasta sauce jar is an ideal place to store your nuts.  Class containers like those jars are airtight, and eliminate more moisture than plastic.

Other excellent nuts and seeds:
Sunflower seeds
Pistachios- in OR out of the shell, but always undyed!

What Do I Do With It?

I am fortunate enough to have access to a wonderful organic produce coop. Ever week, we get a big box full of seasonal, local, organic fruits and vegetables. This is an excellent way to make sure your produce is fresh and healthy, as well as keeping your corner of the world a little greener. However, it does present the occasional problem.

For example, you'll get a few things that you haven't ever seen before, or that you just plain don't know what to do with. Very few of us can walk through the the produce section of our grocery store, point out every single veggie, identify them and then tell you what to do to make them delicious.

So that means that once in a while, you have a fridge full of odd veggies- and you are presented with a big question...

What the heck do I do with THIS?

This week's meal is:

Cabbage Soup
Almond Gouda Salad
Turnip Hash
Sourdough Parmesan Croutettes
Chocolate Covered Frozen Bananas

The meal's grocery list is:
  • 4-5 turnips
  • 1 small green cabbage
  • 1 leek
  • 1 pkg white mushrooms
  • loaf of sourdough
  • 4-5 bananas
  • semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 2 oz aged gouda cheese
  • 1 jar lemon curd

19 May, 2010

Fresh Produce Staples - Top Five

Much like your pantry, your refrigerator can hold on to a few items that you will use constantly. Even if you think you don't like them. You'd be amazed how many things have just a little of this, or a bit of that, and it makes all the difference to the flavor.

For example, a friend of mine's husband HATES celery. Just hates it. But if I leave it out of my shephard's pie, he notices the flavor difference, and doesn't like it! Why? Because it's like salt- it doesn't exactly taste like anything once it's cooked in, it just makes everything taste better.

So here are a few varieties of produce you want to keep on hand. I'll still be putting them on the grocery list, but if you've got them in the fridge (or pantry) all the time, your grocery trips will be easier and faster.

  • Potatoes: You always want to have some russets on hand. First of all, because you can throw together a quick dinner with some potatoes any time, but secondly because you can use them to FIX a failed meal. What? Fix a failed meal? Oh yeah! The most common food blunder I've seen my friends make is to add too much salt. Trust me, it happens. You just meant to shake a little in, and WHOOPS! And usually, that's towards the end of the cooking process- so what do you do? Add a skinned potato. Amazingly, your skinned potato can absorb a great deal of salt and other flavor OUT of the rest of the food. So I always keep a bag of potatoes in my pantry. In order to keep your potatoes fresh longer, you want to keep them OUT of a plastic bag- that's very important- and in a cool, shadowy place. If you have the space, get a bin of sand to store them in. The sand will stay cool, and they'll have an even longer shelf life. But if a recipe calls for "new potatoes," you don't want to use your pantry potatoes. New potatoes will have a different flavor and texture.
  • Pantry Onions: Onions are in everything. Now, there are a great many varieties of onions. To be frank, most of the time it really doesn't matter what type you're using. You can substitute red, white, or yellow onion in most recipes without ever noticing. Like potatoes, you can use them to throw together an amazing amount of quick meals. However, you should still choose your pantry onions with a little care. An onion that has a very thin skin- not a thick, papery skin- will keep badly in the pantry. You want to get onions that have the papery, flaky skin that ends up EVERYWHERE. Sad, but true. To keep onions in the pantry, store them basically in the same conditions as your potatoes. Never store them in a plastic bag.
  • Celery: I know, lots of people do not like celery. But you'll use it everywhere, as mentioned above, and you'll hardly ever notice it. Plus, throw a little into a salad and you can really stretch your greens. It lasts quite a while in the fridge, but not forever. You probably have three weeks for the average bunch of celery.
  • Apples: Apples are great. They're a good snack, they're a great addition to a salad, you can bake them for a healthy dessert, and there are dozens of varieties available just about everywhere. Find one that works for you- my husband is a Fuji fan, while I prefer a Granny Smith. If possible, avoid Red Delicious apples. They don't keep as well, bake as well, or generally taste as good. There are, however, recipes that call for them specifically. This is mostly because their incredibly vibrant color is a feature of the dish. So for your usual, daily use apples, go for something else.
  • On-the-vine Tomatoes: Again, they go in everything. They also keep better when you get them on the vine. Why? That vine is sort of like a nutrition supplement. So if they're vine on, their shelf life nearly doubles. You'll cook with them, but them in salads, put them in sandwiches, and if you're like me just eat them as snacks. You will want to buy other varieties of tomatoes for other things, but always having a tomato or two on hand is never a bad idea.

18 May, 2010

The Well Stocked Pantry - Top Five

This is an extremely important matter. Many of my recipes call for items that are NOT generally in the grocery lists- and these are what I like to think of as my kitchen staples. As someone just starting to cook, you might not think to keep them handy, but you'll be amazed how often you use them and shocked that you ever survived without having them around. Of course, there are a lot of other sorts of staples. Things like cheese, butter, and spices. I will be discussing these later, and dedicated whole entries to picking and choosing your ingredients. But for now, these are a few things that you can add to your pantry and make your life and your food a lot better.

  • Spike: This is a spice blend that I use constantly. In fact, it is the ONLY conventional spice blend I ever use. It beats the hell out of Mrs. Dash and Lawrey's, and the salt-free variety is pretty good too.

  • Pre-minced garlic: At most grocery stores, you can find a plastic tub or jar of already minced garlic in water, and it keeps practically forever in the fridge. When you're in a rush- and who isn't frequently in a rush when they're making dinner?- it's MUCH easier than going to the trouble of peeling and mincing it yourself. Yes, the flavor is a little weaker, but there's a simple solution to that problem... just add more!

  • Miso: Again, a tub will stay in the fridge practically forever. And you'd be amazed how often you end up using it once you get the hang of it.

  • Broth Powder: I like to keep a few varieties around- chicken, beef, and vegetable.

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar: Quality matters in oils and vinegar- not all oil and vinegar is created equal. If you can, sample your oils and balsamics. A good extra virgin olive oil has an almost buttery flavor to it, and smells fragrant. A good balsamic is sweet and tangy, a VERY good balsamic has little enough of an acidic burn to it that you could drink a shot without even thinking to wince.

  • With these items on hand, you will be well prepared to whip up just about anything.

    Butternut Squash Stew with Heirloom Tomato Grilled Cheese and a Fresh Cilantro Salad

    I know, I know, it's the wrong season entirely for a winter squash stew. But I thought I'd get this new home for my recipes off on the right foot. So here we are, one of my husband's favorites of my inventions and one of my most requested recipes. Mike's very much a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and I'm a life long vegetarian with an unyielding love of curries and adventure, so you'd think that dinner might be an issue of contention. Not with this dish! And if you start with a meal like this, you can move onward to more exciting flavors and unusual names. But for the beginning food enthusiast, a nice warm bowl of savory stew and a sandwich is an excellent dinner. Or even lunch. Or leftover. Or, well... anytime.

    Shopping List
    1. 1 butternut squash
    2. 1 can kidney beans
    3. 2 small russet potatoes
    4. 3 oranges
    5. fresh rosemary
    6. parmesan cheese
    7. sour cream
    8. parmesan cheese rind
    9. whole grain bread
    10. 1 heirloom tomato
    11. sharp cheddar cheese
    12. baby spinach
    13. arugula
    14. 1 bunch fresh cilantro
    15. 1 avocado
    16. slivered almonds
    Now, to pick the ingredients at the store.
    To choose a squash, the best you can really do is to find one that isn't too beat up. Sometimes you'll see that the butternut squash has had chunks taken out by being knocked around. Try to get one as undamaged as possible, and for this recipe you'll want one about the size of a loaf of bread.

    When picking your beans, check the ingredients. Amazingly, most canned beans have all sorts of stuff that isn't beans. So if the ingredient list is long, pass up those beans in favor of some that have a shorter list. Ideally, the only ingredients in your beans will be beans and water.

    For your spinach, cilantro, and arugula, find a bunch of greens that aren't wilting or gummy. gummy means rotten, and you want your greens fresh and crisp.

    Picking avocados can be hard- you need to find one that's slightly soft when you squeeze it gently, but not so soft that it's all mush and rot on the inside. Squeeze a few, and if you can dent it gently, it's ripe.

    Most difficult of all... a parmesan rind? Now to be fair, you can just leave this out. It won't damage the flavor very terribly. but you can find one at any grocery store that has a good cheese counter- any Whole Foods will carry them, even if they don't have it out. Simply ask the nice cheese man behind the counter for one. 2" inches of rind will suffice, and the more you put in the richer the flavor of the stew will be. Like garlic and chocolate, you can pretty much never have too much parmesan cheese.

    Butternut Squash Stew
    skin and seeded the squash, and chop it into 1" pieces
    1 medium onion, quartered and sliced
    3-5 T minced garlic
    3 tbs olive oil
    rinse the can of kidney beans
    2 small russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
    3 c water
    Juice two of the oranges and zest the peels- reserve 1/2 T of the juice for the salad
    1/2 tbs fresh rosemary, or 2 tsp dried ground rosemary
    1 tbs Spike or Mrs. Dash
    salt and black pepper
    1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
    sour cream, for garnish

    In a large pot over med. high heat, sauté the onions in the oil until they become translucent. Add the garlic, orange zest, and spices and stir occasionally for three minutes.

    Add the squash, potatoes, water, and orange juice and mix well. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Allow the stew to simmer gently for half an hour.

    Add beans and parmesan rind, and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.

    During this time, you're ready to make the rest of the meal.

    Fresh Cilantro Salad
    baby spinach
    fresh cilantro
    heirloom tomato
    1 avocado
    1/4 c slivered almonds
    1/2 T orange juice- reserved from stew preparation

    Rinse your greens THOROUGHLY. I always try to use local and organic greens, which reduces the likelihood of contaminants like E Coli, but there's going to be dirt on them. They do come from the ground. So rinse your greens!

    The baby spinach and arugula can go in whole. The idea of salad greens is to get them to a size where you can easily put it into your mouth, so if your arugula or spinach is of a larger leaf, tear it down to size. Tearing instead of chopping your greens will keep them crisp longer.

    Slice as much as half of the heirloom tomato- as much as you need to have two VERY thin slices per sandwich- and set those aside. Chop the rest of the tomato into 1/2" squares, and toss into the salad.

    Cube the avocado, and toss the pieces in the reserved orange juice. This will keep them from browning while you finish the meal. Toss the avocado into the salad.

    Mince the cilantro, and toss into the salad. You will, however, want to reserve about a teaspoon for the salad dressing.

    Add the almonds, and set aside the salad to prepare the sandwiches and dressing.

    Heirloom Tomato Grilled Cheese
    I like to use a grill pan for my grilled cheese. Your sandwiches are less likely to stick to the pan, and who doesn't love the look of those grill lines on their food? You will want to pre-heat the pan, so set it on the stove and turn the heat to med. high. There is usually no need to grease your pan, but if you're using something fancy like Le Creuset cookware, you will need to be careful to grease it a little. Some pans can be damaged by inadequate greasing.

    For each sandwich, you will need two slices of that tomato, enough sliced cheese to cover the bread plus a little extra, and two slices of whole grain bread.

    Assemble a sandwich by first covering one piece of bread with cheese, then with the sliced tomato, and then with just enough extra cheese to cover about half of each slice of tomato. Put the second piece of bread on, and put it onto the pan. While it cooks, about three minutes on each side, you will make the salad dressing.

    Orange Vinaigrette
    1/4 c olive oil
    1/4 c balsamic vinegar
    juice of the third orange
    reserved chopped cilantro
    pinch of salt

    In a small bowl, all ingredients together.

    By the time you have finished this, your whole meal will be ready. And like magic, it will all be ready at once.

    After serving the stew, garnish with a sprinkle of extra parmesan cheese and a LARGE dollop of sour cream- as much as a 3 T. As the sour cream mixes in with the stew bite by bite, it will enrich the flavor.

    Moving over from livejournal land

    Hello dear readers! It is with great pleasure that I move from my old home at livejournal to my new home here at blogger.

    So much has changed through the last year that it only seemed right if my blogging site changed as well. So more recipes- complete meal plans now!- will be following shortly,

    Thank you all for your dedication to good food!